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The Paleobiology of Pollination and its Precursors

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2017

Conrad C. Labandeira
Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560 USA and University of Maryland, Department of Entomology, College Park, MD 20742-4454 USA
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Perhaps the most conspicuous of associations between insects and plants is pollination. Pollinating insects are typically the first and most obvious of interactions between insects and plants when one encounters a montane meadow or a tropical woodland. The complex ecological structure of insect pollinators and their host plants is a central focus within the ever-expanding discipline of plant-insect interactions. The relationships between plants and insects have provided the empirical documentation of many case-studies that have resulted in the formulation of biological principles and construction of theoretical models, such as the role of foraging strategy on optimal plant-resource use, the advantages of specialized versus generalized host preferences as viable feeding strategies, and whether “pollination syndromes” are meaningful descriptions that relate flower type to insect mouthpart structure and behavior (Roubik, 1989; Ollerton, 1996; Waser et al., 1996; Johnson and Steiner, 2000). Much of the recent extensive discussion of plant-insect associations has centered on understanding the origin, maintenance, and evolutionary change in plant/pollinator associations at ecological time scales and increasingly at longer-term macroevolutionary time intervals (Armbruster, 1992; Pellmyr and Leebens-Mack, 1999). Such classical plant-insect association studies—cycads and cycad weevils, figs and fig wasps, and yuccas and yucca moths—were explored at modern time scales and currently are being examined through a long-term geologic component that involves colonization models based on cladogenetic events of plant and insect associates, buttressed by the fossil record (Farrell, 1998; Pellmyr and Leebens-Mack, 1999; A. Herre, pers. comm.). In addition to tracing modern pollination to the earlier Cenozoic and later Mesozoic, there is a resurgence in understanding the evolutionary history of earlier palynivore taxa (spore, prepollen and pollen consumers), which led toward pollination as a mutualism (Scott et al., 1992).

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